Shabazz pizzazz

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

Siddeeq Shabazz is used to having the game played in front of him.

As a strong safety in college Shabazz was usually one of his team's last lines of defence.

With the Edmonton Eskimos, the graduate of New Mexico State has been moved up into a linebacker position.

Now the game is being played all around him.

"I'm now in the middle of everything, but I think it's going to be a great move for me," Shabazz said. "I'm excited to be right there in every play. Sometimes at safety things would happen all the way in front and I'd have to run all the way down there and not get a piece of anything.

"Now I'm going to be down there in the mix and I think with my speed, I'm going to get an opportunity to make a lot of plays."

Shabazz is currently in a battle with Ray Perryman for the starting strong-side linebacker position.

Both are exceptional talents. Both are having exceptional training camps. And both are players the Eskimos want to keep.

"We've been talking about a lot of people at this camp and he's one of the guys that's been unbelievable these last three days," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia of Shabazz. "We're trying real hard to find him a spot on our football team. We're trying to identify a position where we feel we can have him on the field every single play, every single down.

"We're working hard to try and fit him in to what we're trying to do here. If he keeps progressing the way he's progressed the last three days, it'll be hard not just to keep him off this football team, but to keep him off the field. We're going to have to find a spot for him."

Shabazz was signed by the Eskimos as a free agent in January. The six-foot, 205-pounder was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the seventh round - 246th overall - of the 2003 NFL Draft.

From there, Shabazz spent time with the Raiders, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons before the Miami Dolphins sent him to play in NFL Europe last year with the Rhein Fire. It seemed appropriate considering Shabazz was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Now it's the CFL.

"They told me before I came up here that I wouldn't be playing safety up here, that I would be playing SAM (strong side) up here," Shabazz said.

"When we were in that mini camp in Miami and El Passo, it was more just covering people, so I thought it would be more just being out there and covering, which is true."

Yesterday, Shabazz also took reps on the weak-side linebacker position which involves more contact with interior lineman. It's apparent he can play of both sides.

"Typically all linebackers - with the exception of middle linebackers - that play in the CFL are all strong safeties that come up from south of the border," Maciocia said. "They're all undersized linebackers. That's no different than (Singor) Mobley. He was a linebacker here, but when he was with Dallas he was a strong safety.

"There is a period where they have to try and get a feel for playing in the box, but once you get a feel for it, you should be fine."

Shabazz's versatility is what makes him so appealing to the Eskimos. He's willing to play wherever the Eskimos need him. And he's getting better with each passing day.

"For me I've always been my hardest critic; I always want to be better," he said.

"Every day I feel I've gotten a little bit better. I'd still like to make a few more plays on the ball, but that's coming. I'm starting to get my hands on some balls finally, now I'm trying to pick some off.

"I've never really had to cover before, playing safety all my life. I was just used to playing deep. But being here is definitely making me a better football player and covering those receivers is going to make me that much better."


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